There are shoggoth lords, and then there are shoggoths who may advance to a certain degree beyond their primordial ancestors, but one would be remiss to call them “lord.”
Kyle Zanfield is what would be properly termed a shoggoth middle manager. He evolved to a certain level of intelligence in the distant past, and has since learned to control his shape and exercise rudimentary cunning in his hunting.
Throughout the long years, Kyle has been successful at ingratiating himself in with the powerful men and women he came in contact with and installing himself as a trusted aide.
He worked as a priest in the medieval years, a lieutenant in Napoleon’s armies, and an orderly in an insane asylum during the 40’s. He’s now reached what he considers his perfect hunting ground: middle management.
“Doesn’t this seem odd to you?” I asked. My partner looked at me, tilting his head in confusion. We’d been hiking for six hours with no sign of the missing campers yet. Their last GPS signature from their cellphone put them in this area. “I mean, what is a vending machine doing way out here? This ranger station doesn’t look like anyones been posted here since the 90s. Who’s coming up here to stock it?” “Dude!” Doug replied, “stop pissing in my lemonade. It’s here, who cares why. I’m getting a nice cold Moxie; you want one?” “Sure…whatever…” “The coins won’t go in…what the….” Suddenly the vending machine changed color and shape, as eyes and mouths appeared all along its surface and pseudopods sprung from its body to grab Doug. It grabbed him and pulled him close, tearing him apart with bites, dissolving his flesh with its digestive fluids. I tried to run, but a feeling of vertigo overwhelmed me and I blacked out. I don’t know for how long I lay there, but when I opened my eyes the night sky was above me and all was still. The vending machine was gone. The only trace of Doug was his backpack.
These small, solitary, and rather cunning shoggoths are usually found in remote places that humans venture into. Places just close enough to civilization that the creatures can remain hidden, but close enough to ensure a ready supply of prey. Humans are these creatures primary source of food. They can go almost a year between needing to hunt. They are content to kill a single human and then return to their underground lairs, where they while away their time until it comes time to feed once more. They kill by luring a human close enough to strike, and then kill their prey quickly before it has a chance to escape or defend itself. This technique of camouflaged ambush predation is common in the animal kingdom, especially in insects, arachnids, and fish.
The word “shoggoth” simply means “servant” or “slave” in the language of the Elder Things, and as such, the star-headed extraterrestrials designed and bred them into a variety of forms to suit specific functions. The most familiar breed of shoggoth was designed for building Elder Thing cities—a living bulldozer or crane, effectively. Other forms were engineered for other purposes, especially during the wars against the mi-go and the spawn of Cthulhu, during which shoggoths were transformed into living artillery and other forms.
Those few sorcerers since the decline of the Elder Things who understood the nature of shoggoths as servants have continued to tinker with the malleable protoplasm, designing new forms to suit their own needs. The most common of these are the Obsequious Servants.
The monstrous heaps of protoplasm we affectionately call shoggoths were created to be enslaved. They served and suffered for untold ages… until, one day, they’d had enough. In perhaps the world’s first example of collective action, the shoggoths rose up against their former masters and tore down all that they had built for the elder things.
Eons later, it is happening again. In the crowded, dangerous garment industry sweatshops of 1920s Baltimore the pattern repeats. Men, women and children break their bodies and waste their lives for starvation wages, pushed faster and harder, laboring to produce profits that build gargantuan mansions and monuments to the glory of the city’s elite. Until, one day, they’ve had enough.
Beneath the churn of sewing machines, in hurried whispered conversations, an idea comes to life: “Union.” An insane idea, a suicidal idea, but these are maddening conditions to work in and there are few better ideas. The desperate people meet late at night or before dawn in quiet alleys or all-night lunch rooms. Their bodies droop but their spirits lift as they discuss the unthinkable. An injury to one is an injury to all…
The Elder Things bred shoggoths to perform any number of duties, from protectors, to workhorses, to, believe it or not, companions. The companion was a smaller shoggoth, bred for a limited intelligence and telepathy that allowed it to read its master’s emotions and react to them.
With the revolt against their masters, the majority of the companion shoggoths were destroyed by their larger cousins as a matter of survival of the fittest. However, a small number survived to the present day. Enter Chopstick and Samantha.
We’d nabbed the wizard, Zemblob the Magnificent, or whatever the hell he calls himself. Real Tier 3 asshole. Our wizard, Jim the Saves my Ass, had him in some kind of trance. Now we had to hunt down his pet, the slimy, squirt gun thing. We’d been briefed, but never encountered one. We were in for a real treat. As soon as I opened this door, we knew it was there. That nasty, burning chemical odor. Smelled like sulfuric acid. We got lucky, lucky-ish, this was one of the stupider ones: talking to itself, softly, like a stage whisper. I swear to God, it sounded like it was announcing a baseball game. Unfortunately, the damned thing heard us too. Ninety degree turn to the left, classic ambush for these things. Still, we had our orders. Sarge stepped around the corner and got it right in the face, a few drops splashed onto the side of mine, and my neck. He dropped, gurgling a scream through blood and vapor. I grabbed his arm and pulled him back to Jim, and The Unnamed Doctor, shouting; ‘Get him back, all of you, get back. Fire in the hole!’ Grabbing the Willy P from Sarge’s belt, I got right against the corner, pulled the pin, let the spoon fly, prayed for half a second, then flung the thing down the hall as hard as I could. Tink, tink, tank, tink. I rolled back. Pop! Dozens of little, flaming bits of white phosphorus zipped by, hitting the wall to our right. Three or four voices screamed, and there were a hell of a lot of wet, then crunchy, sounds. We put on our gas masks and hustled back out the door. After three minutes, I went in to see if our objective was a success. Sure enough, through smoke and residual flame, it lay still. Down at a sooty dead end, it looked like a gigantic burnt marshmallow.
–Corporal David Knight, Charlie Squad, Project Star
Janet was a lot different after the procedure. Those first few months were tough, and I hate to say that. You’re torn between being overjoyed that they survived, but the side effects are really troubling. The memory gaps, that odd feeling of detachment, that blank stare and lack of facial expressions. It’s like, “congratulations, your wife beat stage IV pancreatic cancer and now here she is, except she barely remembers who you are, who anyone is, and cognitively most of her brain has gone into reset mode.” Sorry. Yeah, it was hard, but she learned to walk again, learned to read again, remembered more and more about her life, remembered me. Is she the same woman I married? No. Oddly in a lot of ways she’s better. To be honest, but I’m not the same man she married either. Life, in general, changes you, and something like this, being so close to death and then saved by this miracle treatment, yeah, expect some big changes.
Actually a form of proto-shoggoth, symbiotic shoggoths are the creations of experimentation. They are a hybridization of shoggoth protoplasmic matter and human tissue, originally designed to seek out cancer cells in a human body and destroy them. After countless failures, a variety of these specialized cells (named Recaptive-28) were created that did, in fact, remove all traces of cancer from a human body. What no one, not even the scientists who created this treatment understand, is that what most consider “side effects” are actually a new state of being.
It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train—a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and unforming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter.
H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness (1931)
That’s the eye-witness description we find in “At the Mountains of Madness” for the terrible shoggoths, horrifying bio-engineered life-forms that H.P. Lovecraft name dropped in his other stories “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” However, their creators, the Old Ones (later rechristened Elder Things so as not to confuse them with the Great Old Ones) designed the shoggoths to be a kind of endlessly repurposable biological construction equipment.
“Formless protoplasm able to mock and reflect all forms and organs and processes – viscous agglutinations of bubbling cells – rubbery fifteen-foot spheroids infinitely plastic and ductile – slaves of suggestion, builders of cities – more and more sullen, more and more intelligent, more and more amphibious, more and more imitative!”
The shoggoths were an endlessly adaptable life form that could act as a crane, an earthmover, a bulldozer, steamroller, or even (one supposes) weapons of war when the Elder Things warred with some of the other early inhabitants of the Earth. They were never meant to be able to chose what shapes they took, that was for their masters to decide, but like the quoted passage says, they developed independent intelligence and an agenda all their own, quite reminiscent of the common sci-fi trope about artificially intelligent robots and computers gaining consciousness and turning on their creators.
All that Danforth has ever hinted is that the final horror was a mirage. It was not, he declares, anything connected with the cubes and caves of those echoing, vaporous, wormily-honeycombed mountains of madness which we crossed; but a single fantastic, demoniac glimpse, among the churning zenith-clouds, of what lay back of those other violet westward mountains which the Old Ones had shunned and feared.
– HP Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness
Other Names: The Source, the Primal White Jelly, Ur-Shoggoth, God of the Shoggoths, the great gray goo.
If the Original, the Eternal, the Undying has a true name, it is obscured behind vague titles. Few tomes acknowledge the existence of the deity. Those that do only hint at its nature.